New Orleans Enters New Phase on Ash Wednesday

The city of New Orleans is much more subdued one day after Mardi Gras revelry. Robert Siegel and Michele Norris assess the mood of in this hurricane-damaged town on Ash Wednesday.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block, in Washington, D.C. And I'm joined from New Orleans by my colleague Michele Norris, who's been reporting from there this week along with Robert Siegel. Hi, Michele.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Hi, Melissa.

BLOCK: And tell us where you are, please.

NORRIS: Well, I'm here in Jackson Square, a place that many people may be familiar with, because it's where President Bush delivered his address when he was down here in New Orleans. I'm sitting in front of St. Louis Cathedral. I'm about a block away from the river, so you might in the distance hear the barge traffic and the trains. And it's a very different picture than you would've seen 24 hours ago on Mardi Gras. You still see a few people walking around with beads, but the area is much cleaner, though I'm told not as clean as it would be in normal years. In normal years, the sanitation crews work overnight and people wake up in the morning and after seeing a street strewn with trash they wake up and see a whistle-clean French Quarter. It's not quite whistle-clean, as you would see in normal years. But, you know, there's so much here that's so far from normal, Melissa.

BLOCK: And it is, of course, Ash Wednesday, quite a sober contrast to the tumult, tumult would be a mild word for what went on in New Orleans yesterday.

NORRIS: Yeah, quite a contrast. The revelers, many of them, have gone home. And those that are still here are walking around the city, but they're no longer carrying those Day-Glo cups filled with hurricanes or other brightly colored drinks. It's a city that is very much entering a new phase now. I mean, Mardi Gras was an important marker. For many people, they said it was something that kept them going, knowing that that celebration would be there. It also kept them going financially, because the city filled up with tourists. Not as many as they normally see, but many of the hotels and the restaurants and the bars were packed. In every sense, when you travel through the city you note that this is a new day.

BLOCK: Now, in a few minutes you're going to be taking us to a Catholic school in New Orleans, where we're going to hear from seventh and eighth graders about how they're doing post-Katrina. But first we're going to hear an interview that you did today with the Archbishop of New Orleans right there in Jackson Square.

NORRIS: Yes, we sat down and talked to Father Alfred C. Hughes. He's the Archbishop of New Orleans. We spoke to him in the rectory, which is just down an alleyway from Jackson Square, right next to St. Louis Cathedral. And it was an interesting day to talk to him. It's the day that he delivers his Latin homily. And for an archbishop this is one of the most important messages that he delivers to parishioners. This is even more important this year, in a city where so many people have lost so much, have endured so much suffering. Throughout this city, Catholic churches are seeing standing room only crowds, and especially here at St. Louis Cathedral, which has services throughout the day.

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